VIOLENCE AGAINST JOURNALISTS ON THE RISE
Covering Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, the report documents press freedom violations reported in the past 12 months. Since April 2003, 12 journalists have been killed in the region.
Bangladesh is the most dangerous country for journalists, with a culture of impunity that effectively shields those who attack journalists from prosecution, says IFJ. Since April 2003, 327 media personnel have been attacked and 90 have received death threats.
In India, four journalists were murdered between April 2003 and April 2004, according to IFJ.
In Nepal, Maoist rebels have targeted journalists, including Gyanendra Khadka, whose throat was slit in September 2003 after rebels accused the National News Agency reporter of "writing false news." Police officers and security forces have also cracked down on journalists, prompting the Federation of Nepalese Journalists to create a 24-hour hotline for the media.
Aside from violence against journalists, governments in South Asia frequently use repressive laws to silence dissent, IFJ notes. Under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, individuals can be sentenced to death for offending officials.
In Bangladesh, amendments to the Telecommunications Act have given authorities more powers to monitor e-mail traffic and private communications. The Speedy Trial Act denies bail to defendants, while the Special Powers Act allows police to detain suspects until they are tried in court.
And in India, the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act, declaring that journalists do not have the "sacrosanct right to withhold information regarding a crime under the guise of professional ethics." Press freedom groups have raised concerns about the law, which punishes those who possess information considered "of material assistance in preventing a 'terrorist' act." Journalists who possess such information and refuse to hand it over to authorities can be jailed for up to three years.
While IFJ's report notes the seemingly overwhelming challenges facing press freedom in South Asia, it also highlights the brave efforts of journalists and press freedom groups in pushing the "boundaries of freedom."
Read the report:
For information on free expression in South Asia, visit: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/140/